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This Week in Tech

Smooth Skullcaps Exhales - pure genius!

GPS. It lets us know where we are on the surface of our huge and amazing planet. Software allows us to combine our position with digitised maps and routing algorithms to find how to get to a specified destination. Our location can even be used to draw up lists of shops / attractions / faculties nearby to us, so that even if we are new to an area we can easily know what destinations are around us.

But, it is never quite so easy to let people know where we are. Sure we can share a location - if we are online and using the same app. Reading out lattitude and longitude co-ordinates to tell someone where we are is tedious - and often inaccurate. What is needed is an easy-to-communicate global standard method for communicating a location on the planet.

Enter "What Three Words". This amazing startup has divided the entire globe into a grid of 3m x 3m squares. Each grid has been given a name made up of three words. 26 Languages are supported (including isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans). These words are easy to remember, easy to communicate and can be typed directly into a mobile app or online browser map to find the location they represent.

It's a unique idea, well worth pushing as a global standard. It has tremendous potential for businesses and customers to quickly and accurately communicate location. In the UK emergency services are adopting it as a standard and it is rapidly garnering support in many other places (including here in SA).

The app (Android and iOS) is free - and so is access to the online map in a browser.

What if the company fails? What happens to your ability to convert locations into words and vice-versa? To quote from the site:


If we, what3words ltd, are ever unable to maintain the what3words technology or make arrangements for it to be maintained by a third-party (with that third-party being willing to make this same commitment), then we will release our source code into the public domain. We will do this in such a way and with suitable licences and documentation to ensure that any and all users of what3words, whether they are individuals, businesses, charitable organisations, aid agencies, governments or anyone else can continue to rely on the what3words system.

Reassuring.

I'd really recommend installing the app, using it and telling as many other people about it as possible.

And the article's headline? That's one of my favourite places to camp.

Digital Trends article.




GauGAN - the AI Artist

A short while ago I wrote about 'This Person Is Not Real' - an AI project that created realistic human faces from scratch. nVidia is experimenting with an app that can turn MS Paint style sketches into realistic looking photographic images. The app is not generally available, relies on computers with AI CPUs (Tensor chips) and so is not something that you can rush out and try.

Some of the resulting images can look like bad uses of the cut, paste and clone stamp tools in Photoshop, but that even this much is possible is pretty amazing.

But the video is cool in a kinda awesome, breathtaking way. Well worth showing your learners.


Google- The serial App, product and Services killer.

I am a voracious reader of news. That's why I write this blog. I manage this by using RSS - and for a long time I relied on Google Reader as my go-to RSS reading tool. Seven years after creating it Google summarily cancelled Reader.

I also enjoy taking (and editing) photos. One of the best plugins tool suites for image editing is called the NIK Suite, of which Viveza is my favourite tool. Google bought the tool in 2012. It dropped prices drastically (from $500 to $130) and then, in 2016, started to give the suite away for free. In 2017 they decided to kill the NIK product line. Luckily Dx0 (a photography software company) bought the brand from them and has continued development.

The list of Apps and Services that have died at the hands of Google is long - and does not include examples such as the NIK photographic plugins (because they were bought out and so did not die). Many of these were not created by Google. They were bought; they had loyal, enthusiastic users who watched their favourite tools languish and die at the hands of a mindless behemoth that consumed them, used them up and excreted them on the dungheap of history.

How long is this list, you ask? Just take a look at KilledByGoogle.

Does that seem like the behaviour of a responsible digital citizen to you?

Talking of irresponsible: Facebook strikes again.

It might be a really good idea to change your Facebook or Instagram password. And anyother password that is the same as your Facebook password (you naughty user you!).

Why? Because it turns out that Facebook kept hundreds of millions of user's data stored on locally accessible computers in plain text (i.e. unencrypted format). That means any Facebook employee (or person with access to the data) could look up the password of almost any Facebook user.

Since 2012.

Liklihood that someone actually looked up your password: Low. Change it anyway, to be safe. And think about just how irresponsible Facebook is when it comes to valuing / protecting your data and your privacy.

Malvertising vs Adware

CSO Online explains (includes a brief explanation of the use of steganography).

Fabian Fights Back - against Ransomware

Great read from the BBC.

Pay by Face

Not sure I'm ready for this. Apparently the Chinese are.

Follow up on Boeing 737 Max 8

Popular Science on software as part of aircraft design.ExtremeTech on how safety features that could have prevented the crashes were 'optional' (expensive) extras. CNN on how pilots with experience on other 737 models were 'trained' on the 737 Max 8 (with no reference to the new MCAS system in the course materials).

Profits over lives. Not looking good for Boeing.

Flat Earth?

I've known about people choosing to believe that the earth is flat for a while. What I have not known is the craziness of the world that these people inhabit. Ars Technica has an article that sums up the content of 'Behind the Curve' - a documentary screening on Netflix, Amazon and Google Play. Not really tech or IT related, but the article is worth reading and the documentary worth watching.

Other Links:


That's it for this week.

Comments

Cryptojacking Malverts plague Google

What a mouthful! The premonition that 2018 would be the year of the rise of cryptojacking seems to be morphing into reality faster than expected. Both Google's mainstream ads and YouTube ads made the news this week as being targeted by Malvertising syndicates. The basic idea is to place adverts using Google's DoubleClick ad service. The ads though, contain code that sets the computer they are displayed on to mining cryptocurrency - and can use up to 80% of the computer's processing power to do so.

Trend Micro (an anti-virus / anti-malware company) published the breach on their blog on 26 January. On the same day Ars Technica published that YouTube was affected by the same problem. Confiant (a digital advertising company) has released a report detailing how last year 28 fake ad agencies were created by criminals in order to generate over 1 billion views of 'malvertising'. A technical but very interesting read.

So, What is 'Malvertising'?

Malware (anything from ransomware to botnet controllers to cryptocurrency mining software) hidden in advertising that can be displayed on any web page you visit. Some malvertising delivers its payload as soon as the ad is displayed, some need you to click on the advert before they become active. The bad guys create the ads and submit them to ad agencies. The ad agencies display ads on web sites based on algorithms which match you to the content on the web site. The bad guys have to pay for the ad to be shown, but they potentially gain so much more when you are infected. Digital Guardian has a great, in-depth explanation of malvertising here.

So why is cryptojacking bad?

As malware goes, cryptojacking doesn't seem so bad - after all, it doesn't destroy your data... What does it do? It sets your computer to doing the complex mathematical calculations needed to 'mine' a cryptocurrency. For you, your computer slows down and goes into overdrive with 80% of your CPU's time being spent on the mining operation. This also means that your computer runs hotter and uses more power. For the hacker; they don't have to buy expensive mining computer hardware - or pay the expensive electricity bills that go with mining cryptocurrency. They just collect the cryptocurrency that gets mined.

Password problems....

In the meanwhile it has emerged that the fake missile alert in Hawaii mentioned in last week's blog could have had a much quicker resolution. It turns out the Governor of Hawaii wanted to tweet a message saying the alert was fake mere minutes after the alert went out. Why didn't he do so? He forgot / didn't know his password....

XKCD's take....

Hawaii

Car makers are tracking you - whether you know it or not.

The Washington Post exposes how car makers are gathering data from their products. A fascinating read.

Net Neutrality explained - with burgers!

In case you have missed it, Net Neutrality legislation in the US has been repealed, opening up the possibility for various abuses of the internet by the telecommunications companies that own the infrastructure. Many people don't really understand what this means. Burger King created an ad to illustrate the problem using burger sales in their stores.

Primates Cloned in China.

Not a direct tech story - but rather a biotech story that is made possible by IT. Chinese scientists have successfully cloned two long tailed macaque monkeys.

The quote below explains its significance:

"The technical barrier of cloning primate species, including humans, is now broken,"
- Qiang Sun, Lead Researcher

Little Ripper - Hero Drone

A drone saved two boys from drowning on its first day of use.

That's the news for this week. Happy teaching!

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